Many feared dead as huge explosions rock Florida gas plant: At least 15 missing and residents within a MILE of blaze evacuate

Fifteen people are feared dead and others are critically injured after a series of frightening explosions turned a Florida gas plant into a fire ball overnight on Monday.

Residents within a mile of the plant were evacuated after the blasts began just after 11 p.m. at Blue Rhino, a propane tank-exchange business in Tavares, Lake County.

More than 200 firefighters and law enforcement personnel were on scene as of 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday as a wild inferno continued to burn on the plant that had some 53,000 20lb propane cylinders on site.

Officials said up to 26 workers were doing the night shift at the site when the shocking blasts began, and then continued exploding every few seconds for a period of around two hours.

Two critical burns patients have been choppered to Orlando Regional Medical Center, while another five were transported, either air lifted or by ambulance, to other regional hospitals. Three drove themselves to hospital and two people managed to get out of the plant uninjured.

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Injuries: A massive emergency response was called for after multiple injuries were reported

Injuries: A massive emergency response was called for after multiple injuries were reported

 

 
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Explosions: A series of explosions have rocked a gas plant in Florida, pictured, injuring scores of people and forcing residents up to several miles away to evacuate

 


No fatalities have been reported as yet but 15 are unaccounted for and those workers families are being contacted.

Its really surprising, its very, very dramatic and surreal, Lake County spokesman John Herrell said at an early morning press conference. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who may have perished.

Herrell said no neighboring residents were injured.

A source told the Sentinel that someone may have been filling a propane tank with a leak and a spark ignited. But Herrell said it wasn clear what started the blaze and that the cause was being investigated.

The first blasts happened inside the plant and blew the roof off, Lake County Sheriff Gary Borders said.

The blasts began again about 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday in tractor-trailers loaded with pallets of propane tanks. After the second round of explosions, Tavares Fire Chief Richard Keith evacuated his firefighters out for fear that they would be injured.

Witnesses, some of whom filmed the blasts, said thousands of 30-foot-high propane tanks loaded on pallets continued to explode every minute or two as of 11:25 p.m.

 
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Plant: The Blue Rhino gas plant, pictured, continued to burn into Tuesday morning

 

 
Don Ingram, a former plant worker, told Wesh.com at least 15 to 20 people work on the plant each night

Don Ingram, a former plant worker, told Wesh.com at least 15 to 20 people work on the plant each night

 

 
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Witnesses, some of whom filmed the blasts, said thousands of 30-foot-high propane tanks loaded on pallets continued to explode every minute or two as of 11:25 p.m.

 

Residents described hearing sounds similar to bombs going off, shotguns being fired and fireworks popping. They also said they saw bursts of light and a bright orange glow in the sky.

I heard a loud bomb sounds, Lisa Garner, 43, who lives in Lakeside, a Tavares subdivision near County Roads 461 and 448, told the Sentinel. I thought somebody ran into my house.

Blue Rhino relocated to Tavares about seven years ago. Its headquarters is in North Carolina. The plant is used to recommission Blue Rhino propane tanks.

It is believed trucks were stacked with used tanks, that still had residue of propane. Shards of exploded tanks could be seen scattered around the plant.

Fire officials are working to contain the still blazing fires, however the flames are finally beginning to die down. At around 1:30 a.m., the evacuation zone was reduced to a half-mile radius but will remain in effect until at least 6 a.m., Herrell said.

A shelter has been set up at the First United Methodist Church near the plant for displaced residents.

Officials have set up a mass casualty on scene.

 
Flames: Several locals reported seeing flames and hearing loud explosions

Flames: Several locals reported seeing flames and hearing loud explosions

 

 
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Blue Rhino: The propane explosions went off at the Blue Rhino LP gas plant, pictured, in Tavares

 

The hundreds of firefighters on scene couldn get near the flames because of the extreme heat.

They are believed to be waiting until the fire burns down and in the meantime containing the perimeter.

Don Ingram, a former plant worker, told Wesh.com the staff, the majority of whom are from a temp service, clock in from around 5-7 p.m. and work a 10 hour shift.

Only a handful are generally Blue Rhino employees. These staff refurbish and refill propane tanks, like those used for backyard barbeques. During the 10-hour shift they fill around 4,000 to 5,000 tanks, Ingram said.

Locals said there is a landfill, a lumber yard and an animal shelter nearby to the gas plant.

Blue Rhinos tank exchange service allows customers to trade in an empty tank for a full one at retail locations, according to CNN